Thursday, February 23, 2012

Becoming a "Right Now" Writer with Megan O.

I don’t understand why more people don’t write novels. 

And yes, Holly, this means you. 

So many times, when I tell people that I write novels, the response is, “Way to go. I have always wanted to do that. I love writing.” 

To all “someday novelists” I’m issuing an official throw down: “Well...why don’t you?!” 

And before you start with your excuses, let me identify a few I get regularly: 

1. “It’s such a competitive market, and I don’t think I’m good enough.” 
When I was in college, I sang in a group called Concert Choir. I was honestly astounded that I got in, because it was a group with pretty rigorous standards, and I’m serious when I say that I spent every practice just grateful to be there. A few weeks before one of our concerts, our amazing conductor announced that she’d be holding auditions for a solo on one of the pieces. I loved the piece she was talking about, and wanted to sing it, but I knew I wouldn’t get it, because there were about 50 other extremely talented women in the choir. 

I auditioned anyway, because my mama didn’t raise no quitter. I’m not going to lie: it was really intimidating. I didn’t go into a little room and sing for my conductor privately. Instead, she had us all line up and sing one after another -- and these girls were GOOD singers. The one who went before me nearly knocked me over with her voice, it was so amazing. After she sang, I almost put my music down and walked out. Seriously. But I didn’t. I stood with wobbly knees, squeaked out the part, and sat back down. 

I got the solo. 

I was not the best singer, and that isn’t false modesty. The solo called for a simple voice, and mine fit the bill. Had we been vying for an operatic aria, I would have been the last choice. 

Don’t think about writing as a competition with every other writer out there. That’s not a healthy way to look at writing, or life for that matter. Focus on your own work, and don’t be overly harsh with yourself! Just like my little weakling voice could be perfect or disastrous depending on the piece, I believe there is a space where every kind of book can shine. 

2. “I don’t have the time. Someday.” 
We do ourselves a disservice when we choose to believe in the idea of the starving artist. I always picture Thoreau, isolated in the silence of his little cottage at Walden Pond; listening to the forest, meditating, and always writing, writing, writing. How many novels could I churn out if I was left to my own devices for 24 hours a day??? For the majority of us, this is a far cry from reality. But that shouldn’t discourage us. You don’t need to live the life of a starving artist to feel like you’re legitimately creating. I wrote my first novel over the course of a year, by writing for about 30 minutes a day (or night, after my baby was asleep). Do yourself a favor: that image of the wild-haired, solitary genius whose office floor is covered in crumpled paper? Throw it away. Better yet, replace it with a picture of yourself, typing out a few paragraphs on your laptop before bedtime. That is a novelist. 

3. “I’ve written a lot of shorter pieces, but a novel feels overwhelming.” 
This was my situation, too. I’d racked up tons of short stories, articles, poetry, even a couple of monologues. I didn’t trust that I could keep a plot consistent and engaging for 300 pages, which is about how long my novel turned out to be. 

My advice would be this: start your novel-writing process with a planning stage. Deliberately carry a notebook and pencil with you wherever you go. I always have one -- even when I’m on the treadmill. (Believe me, I’ve gone cross-eyed trying to decipher my squiggly writing once I’m home.) Write down even the smallest ideas: a quirk some character has, or the name of a city, or little fact that would help your’s all important, even the things you don’t end up using. Remember word webs from 3rd grade? Yeah, I did a lot of those. 

Then, one day, make the step. Start writing! People do this differently -- some like to just write and see where it takes them. I would not recommend this. Revising your novel will be a LOT easier if you know where you’re going before you start. I would brainstorm, plan, and then write. 

And then email me and I’ll read your manuscript.  :) 

I offer more in-depth suggestions for the writing process on my blog. Come check me out. 

Megan O. is a long-time friend and a dang good writer.

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